March 7, 2014

The Morning Sun

A primary objective of the Central Michigan University Research Corporation is the guidance and support it provides to fledgling entrepreneurs in the creation of new products and technologies via business incubator and accelerator programs. Given its basic mission, it’s appropriate that CMURC is taking a page from its own highly successful playbook and implementing new strategies to expand its already ingenious environment geared to generating new business growth and development. It’s the combination of new programming - like Right Choice which takes entrepreneurs from concept to the marketplace in a three-phased approach - and a re-design of its physical space allowing for more interaction between CMURC participants that’s hatching new companies and boosting the economy across the region.

“It began about a year ago when we changed up some of the existing programs and created new ways of working with and serving participants,” CMURC Marketing and Public Relations Director Elissa Richmond-Gagne says. “In 2013, CMURC served 95 unique companies, created 27 new companies, created 62 new jobs and facilitated $5,670,725 of investment through public, private or government funding.”

Faces behind the data

Those are impressive stats, but it’s the people behind the numbers that are most important to Erin O’Brien, president and CEO of CMURC, and its Board of Directors and staff. Gary Moeggenberg, owner of Industrial Cryogenic Engineering, LLC is a great example of a “face” behind the statistics.

“Moeggenberg’s company was the first one accepted into the CMURC Right Choice Program and he is its first graduate,” Richmond-Gagne says about the Shepherd area resident and his idea for cryogenically processing metal which allows metal fabricated parts to last two to four times longer than anything currently on the market. “Gary had the knowledge base and knew how to manipulate molecules of metal, but he needed the business coaching and assistance to actually make it happen.”

CMURC’s Right Choice program provided the necessary guidance.

"I.C.E. wouldn’t be moving forward the way it is today without the CMURC team,” Moeggenberg says, crediting the expertise it provided for helping him maneuver through the entrepreneurial landscape and ultimately operate an innovative company that benefits other local business owners. “The price per part for some of the ag equipment I process is upwards of $8,000, and that’s quite an investment for a business that goes through 10 parts a year. When I cryogenically process the part, the company will only need three to five parts a year. That’s huge savings.”

Collaboration with other entities is often a part of success stories like Moeggenberg’s, according to Richmond-Gagne.

“CMURC has strategic partnerships with other economic development organizations in the region including the Michigan Small Business and Development Center. This partnerships allows entrepreneurs to receive expert advice on all aspects of business; Gary worked very closely with both SBDC and CMURC on his business project.”

A fresh approach to programming

Right Choice is just one of several recent programs designed to aid new business start-ups. Others include:

* Passport Program: Collaborative program between the Michigan Small Business and Development Center (SBDC), Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce and CMURC giving entrepreneurs access to discounted services and a pre-membership in the Chamber.
* CMURC Exchange: Proprietary crowd-funding website that allows friends, family and community to donate to local entrepreneurs; funds can be used to pay for services delivered by programs, for space or service provider offerings.
* Mentor Program: Connects new business ventures with community leaders to support, facilitate and navigate through the regional business environment.

The CMURC Exchange is truly unique, Richmond-Gagne says.

“There are no other SmartZone in the state doing this - offering a web-based platform where entrepreneurs can raise funds to help in the creation of new products, ideas and services. Financing is a big struggle for any start-up business, and the Exchange can help facilitate capital funds. Last year, 18 companies raised over $22,000 because of the website.”

The Passport and Mentor programs have been equally beneficial, and Richmond-Gagne expects even better results this year.

“Currently we have over 20 different service providers who are involved in the Passport Program and offer discounts to CMURC entrepreneurs,” she says, noting web design and marketing as examples of service-providers who are involved in the program. “Having our participants work with them is a huge benefit, both financially and in helping them expand their own skill sets through participation in the Mentor Program. The programs have been well received both by CMURC participants and business owners who serve as mentors - they truly enjoy interacting with each other here at our site next to the CMU campus.”

Making good use of ‘Space’

Changing the design of the physical space at CMURC is a key reason for the growth of interaction between mentors and participants - and among the entrepreneurs themselves.

“Watching and listening to all these like-minded and creative people come together in a work area is pretty amazing - there’s high energy,” Richmond-Gagne says.

That space, called CoWork, provides a flexible setting for entrepreneurs, start-up veterans, freelancers, work teams and individuals who need a professional environment and a place to collaborate. The idea for CoWork was driven by the needs and wants of CMURC participants.

“Many entrepreneurs work out of their homes and that can be challenging for a start-up business,” Richmond-Gagne says. “Having a dedicated work space is one thing our entrepreneurs said would be very helpful - and that’s what we developed here within the past six months. It’s been very well received.”

Ditto for two other CMURC innovations related to office space: the Station and the SmartZone Development Fund. The Station is a central location within the CMURC building where service providers and mentors meet with entrepreneurs and offer business services. The physical space includes interactive TVs, conference rooms, a wetlab, wireless Internet and smartboards.

CMURC also encourages business development within the designated SmartZone by setting aside 50 percent of the rent collected from all incubated tenants for future building development costs. Those dollars are placed in the SmartZone Development Fund.

If at first you don’t succeed...

Not every business becomes a huge success story on its first try.

“Risk taking - and failure - are sometimes part of the process,” Richmond-Gagne says, adding that entrepreneurs by nature are a hardy breed. “The individuals we work with are driven; they’re not afraid to pivot an original idea or business concept and take it in another direction.”

Being part of the CMURC team is particularly important during an entreperneurs’ second, third - or more - effort.

“All the programs we offer and the opportunities CMURC participants have to network with successful business owners is vital, especially if an original idea doesn’t succeed,” Richmond-Gagne says. “Our incubation programs nurture a business in its start-up phase, allowing it to develop at its own pace - entrepreneurs typically stay in an incubation center for three to five years.”

The CMURC business accelerator works equally well for other entrepreneurial ventures, compressing the timeline for start- up operations.

For detailed information on CMURC and the various programs it offers, visit https://www.cmurc.com/